Thursday, June 04, 2009

Frothing faculty

I have been amazed once again at the vituperative abuse that faculty can spew at those who stand in our way, ruin our day, or otherwise mar what must be acknowledged as a pretty good gig. I have heard two stories recently where faculty members wrote emails to people in which they attacked the email recipient and insulted other faculty and administrators. And the amazing part to me is that the purpose of these emails was to ask for something. Where is the logic in that? And aren't we educated lot supposed to be a bit more logical? I mean, did we faculty somehow miss the folk lesson that we attract more flies with honey than vinegar? Or perhaps we missed the day where we learned to write a professional email?

One of my favorite senior university administrators once told me she received 3-5 "What the hell is wrong with you people?" emails a week from dissatisfied faculty who felt empowered to vent their spleen to the central administration. Perhaps this is the reason that administrators, university counsel, student services staff, human resources staff, and even janitorial staff are known to complain about "the faculty."

I know that we faculty are an entitled lot. We complain about poorly ventilated classrooms, students who cannot use good grammar, textbooks that don't arrive in time for the beginning of class, colleagues who don't appreciate our work, and merit systems that fail to reward all of our hard work. These actually are stressors that make our days more difficult. I get that, and I admit to engaging in my own fair share of complaining. What I DON'T do is write crazy, angry notes, calling people names and casting aspersions at my colleagues and administrators!

I must be incredibly naive and/or somehow feel less privileged than these colleagues, because I cannot imagine writing an insulting email to my boss, colleague, or someone high up the administrative food chain. Yes, I have been very angry related to work. I have had times where I felt that I have been "wronged" by one or another colleague or boss. I have even written an email complaining about this mistreatment once or twice. My emails have always been professional in tone, though, because I wanted them taken seriously by the reader. I also don't want some rant of mine displayed as Exhibit A in a grievance or in a court case, should my complaint have to go that far. Especially now, in the days of the internet, when such a rant can be accessible to everyone in perpetuity!

So, for you faculty who are tempted to write the "What the hell is wrong with you people" email, may I make the following suggestions?


  1. If you must write a rant email, put it in your drafts file for at least 24 hours, or until you know you have calmed down enough to read it over. You may think twice about sending it.

  2. If you find yourself addressing the recipient as "Dear fathead/jerk/selfish prick/some other mean name," go back and put in their proper name and/or title.

  3. Write the letter like you are writing it to someone's kindly grandmother/grandfather. Imagine that they will be offended by harsh words and curses.

  4. Try sticking with the dictum: Just the facts. Don't embellish and don't presuppose the reasons for other people's actions ("He wanted to punish me, so he gave me a small raise.")

  5. Make your case--provide evidence, persuade, and lead the reader to your conclusion as the most obvious interpretation.

  6. Re-read the email and imagine that you are the recipient, not the author. How would you feel reading it? If it makes you angry, it needs to be re-written. (If you can't be dispassionate enough to read it this way, ask a trusted friend to review it.)

  7. Snide, petty, and mean comes off just as it is intended, and it hurts your cause. (As an administrator, I can tell you that snide, petty, and mean emails don't work for me. They make me want to delete them; they don't make me want to accommodate the sender.) Just adopt a tone of clarity and rationality, and your point will be better received.

So, here's hoping that we faculty can decompress over the summer and come back to campus with a new attitude...or that we can keep our attitudes (and our insults) to ourselves.

1 comment:

Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

Great suggestions, and not just for the academy.